6 Hartford Whalers plead guilty - 1994
Anyone remember this one?
March 25, 1994|By Jeff Jacobs; Courant Staff Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. - — Six Whalers were ordered to each serve 20 hours of community service Thursday after pleading guilty to reduced charges in Buffalo City Court following an early - morning brawl at a downtown nightclub.
Following plea negotiations between Erie District Attorney Kevin Dillon and attorney Nicholas P. Amigone III, team captain Pat Verbeek, 29, Chris Pronger, 19, Todd Harkins, 25, Marc Potvin, 27, and Mark Janssens, 25, each pleaded guilty to one count of trespassing. Geoff Sanderson, 22, pleaded guilty to two counts of trespassing.
Assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, 36, also was involved in the altercation at Network, a nightclub owned by Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, and the adjacent Main Place Mall. Not sent to jail with the players, McCarthy was given a March 31 appearance ticket on a second - degree harassment charge after he ``subjected officers to physical contact while officers were investigating a fight,'' according to the arrest report. Amigone, a friend of coach Pierre McGuire's who was hired by the Whalers, was trying to get McCarthy a court date for this morning.
While the legal problems are behind the players, they still face discipline from the team. McGuire said he had issued a midnight curfew, which the players disregarded. Complicating this was McCarthy's presence at the nightclub and the fact Pronger is underage.
``I will not tolerate this. I am indignant,'' Whalers owner Richard Gordon said. ``There will be some announcements [today].''
Jerry Jones, 29, of Buffalo, also was involved in the altercation and pleaded guilty to the same reduced charges as the Whalers. Verbeek said the players do not know Jones.
``It was a situation that should have and could have been prevented,'' Verbeek said. ``It's like a bad dream.''
City Judge Margaret A. Murphy ruled that all six players must perform 20 hours of community service in Buffalo with a youth organization sometime in the next year. Murphy gave Amigone until April 25 to give her the name of a youth group subject to court approval. Sanderson had to pay $85 in court costs, while the others had to pay $45.
``On behalf of the Hartford Whalers, I'd like to apologize to the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo police for the unfortunate incident,'' Whalers director of player personnel Kevin Maxwell said. ``We're embarrassed. Certainly we don't condone the actions of our players.''
Trespassing is a violation in the New York penal code, considered less than a misdemeanor. The maximum sentence under the plea bargain could have been 15 days and $250. The trespassing charges stemmed from the Whalers being apprehended in the mall, which was barricaded and closed to the public at that time.
Buffalo police, according to Deputy Police Commissioner Rocco Diina, were called to respond to a large fight at the mall at 3:15 a.m. At 3:45 pa.m., Diina said, a police backup was requested. The arrests were made at 3:55 a.m.
``We investigated objectively, and no differently than if it wasn't Jim Kelly's place and they weren't hockey players,'' Diina said.
``The Buffalo police were called regarding some patrons who were unruly and refused to leave the Network nightclub after management's request,''Kelly's partner in Network, Roger Trevino, said in a statement. ``The police responded swiftly. We fully support their handling of the situation.''
Since there were no injuries, Diina said no assault charges were entered.
At the 11:30 a.m. arraignment, the Whalers, who entered the courtroom handcuffed in pairs, initially had entered not guilty pleas to violation charges involving trespassing, harassment and disorderly conduct.
Sanderson also was charged with obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor. That is why he eventually agreed to plead guilty to two counts of trespassing. Police said Sanderson jumped a 6 - foot security fence at the entrance to the mall in an attempt to elude police.
One witness, who requested anonymity, told The Buffalo News that the fight began when two of the players started arguing with one of the patrons over a woman.
``It had nothing to do with it at all,'' Verbeek said.
That witness said the brawl included 20 to 25 people. ``Fists were flying,'' the witness said. ``It was like a bench - clearing brawl. The bouncers kind of provoked it though. They just came in and started pushing people.''
Another source, who also requested anonymity, told The Courant the Whalers were pushed, shoved and kicked by the Network bouncers when they didn't leave the nightclub quickly enough. According to the witness, the bouncers cornered the players outside the bar in the mall area and police closed in and sprayed the Whalers with pepper spray and used nightsticks.
Jones said: ``This never should have happened. They sprayed [pepper spray] at me. Look how red my face is. None of us should have been in that courtroom. Not one.''
March 25, 1994|By Jeff Jacobs; Courant Staff Writer
Verbeek, who spoke on behalf of the players, said he was hit by a little pepper spray, but not to the extent of the others. Verbeek insisted the players didn't throw any punches.
``It wasn't a brawl. We were just trying to get out of there,'' Verbeek said. ``It was so confusing. They can paint the picture we were badly drunk but we weren't.
``They told us to leave. I guess we didn't leave fast enough.''
Verbeek said the bouncers pushed the players outside the nightclub into the mall.
``We weren't fighting. We weren't loud,'' Verbeek said.
When asked if he thought heshould have been arrested, Verbeek said no.
The Whalers were in a holding cell from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. and spent the rest of the day, until their 5 p.m. release, in the courthouse. At the arraignment, bail was set at $250.
Verbeek said some other Whalers were in and out of Network duringthe night.
When the afternoon session resumed at 2 p.m., the Whalers' cases were delayed a few more hours because Judge Murphy, over Amigone's objection, decided to allow a TV camera and two photographers in the courtroom during the Whalers' hearing. But first, she wanted to hear a number of other cases to better clear the courtroom.
Asked what lesson was learned, Verbeek said: ``There was a 12 o'clock curfew. And we missed it. We embarrassed ourselves, our families, our organization. We let everyone down.''
McGuire said the players will be disciplined, but the extent has not been determined. He said he will talk to Gordon and general manager Paul Holmgren, both in New York for league meetings, on whether the six will play tonight in Buffalo.
Although Pronger's underage presence in a bar was never discussed, Diina said that remains a question to be pursued by the State Liquor Authority.
McCarthy said he went to the Sabres' home game and later watched the Los Angeles Kings' game on satellite in another establishment.
``I stopped in [Network] for a beer on the way back to the hotel,'' McCarthy said. ``I ordered a beer and saw a couple of players. I should have turned around and walked out.
``I stepped over the line. I went over to talk to the guys. It was bad misjudgment. A big mistake. It's embarrassing for myself, my family and my organization. It's a nightmare that just doesn't end. I should have known better. I'm not going to lie. It was a bad, bad decision. I can only hope this one mistake doesn't hurt my career.''
"The Hand is fine, I got a shot of chromosone yesterday." John Kordic on the status of his hand.
"Let's get out of this sh*thole."
Phil Esposito, on Winnipeg, after Team Canada lost game 3 of the 1972 series to the Russians.